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  Management Feature

Just Because It's Slow Doesn't Mean You Can't Grow

Posted 10/1/2008
By David Rogers, AAM

Use the slow times to increase your sales.

There are certain times of the year that a bit of a slowdown in customer traffic seems inevitable. These times are the ones where many teams become unproductive and unhappy. If you aren't concerned, maybe you should be!

Your employees may not always outwardly demonstrate their dissatisfaction, and you may think they ought to know by now that some weeks are just slow, but it's when we relax and think we know what others are thinking that we really get in trouble!

Even though we have become adept at marketing and advertising our business, Back-to-School, Christmas and Tax Week have never made it off the bottom of our "busy times" list!

Our secret to success, though, is that we actually have a plan for these tougher times that increases morale and helps prevent comebacks! By planning ahead while sales are taking a dip, we're actually preparing our shop to make even more money once the slowdown is over!

We do this in three ways: internal/cross-training, to make sure our shop is prepared to handle an influx of cars; image management and beautification, to make sure our shop's image gives our neighbors a great impression of our facility and staff; and by marketing on a seasonal plan, where we make our biggest push in the month leading up to a seasonal slowdown.

Internal Training/Cross-Training

The secret, we've found, is to focus on the areas in which our shop is most limited during the busiest periods. By removing the bottlenecks and, as a result, increasing our capability (and therefore our capacity), we prepare to make more money every year!

How Do We Do This in Our Shop?

Say, for instance, you have a guy who flashes powertrain control modules and engine control modules, and does your heavy diagnostic work. Schedule the next most talented technician to spend a couple hours per day with that top diagnostic guy. By the time the shop is busy again, he too will be able to flash proms and confidently perform deeper diagnostics (You'd be amazed what 8-10 hours of training like this can do).

(And of course, great diagnostic work helps your shop stay busy, even when car counts drop off!)

For instance, if you have an alignment machine in your shop, it's likely you have one guy who is the primary alignment tech. Have each of the other techs spend an hour or two with him during slow times, so that every tech in your shop is adept at alignments. The next time your alignment technician is sick or on vacation, your shop won't lose that revenue!

In our shop, we train all of our staff to help us with estimating and parts sourcing and to do so in the proper way! Imagine how many more dollars you could push through your shop when you are buried in cars if, instead of sitting around watching his tool box rust, your tech would grab a work order and help with sourcing parts and building the estimate!

Just because your service writers are buried in recommendations and your techs don't have approval doesn't mean your shop has to act like a clogged drain!

Image Management, Beautification

When our shop is slow, I pay my techs and other employees to paint, drywall, pour new concrete pads for lifts, hang Christmas decorations, pass out fliers at the local movie theater, etc., just to keep them productive and to get a handle on our image - all while filling the pipeline with work for next week or month.

There are two things that are important to remember and consider, however:

First, control the number of hours you can afford to pay for each job by creating a budget and sticking to it; and second, assign the guys to the work based upon: a) your budget and what you can part with (remember to spread it around!); b) their hours flagged that period (help out the hungry!); and c) their willingness to participate in this most important work!

If you plan for these things and undertake a minimum of preparation (such as having a few gallons of matching paint on hand, budgeting a few extra bucks each month when you're busy, writing lists year-round of things that need mending or maintenance, etc), you can turn slow times into times of personal and team growth . . . and you can improve your team's trust in you to take care of them, even when things are hard.

At the same time, too, you are readying the business for the next rush period. You'll definitely see the team perform more quickly, more efficiently, and with greater teamwork - and, we've found, they'll take better care of the facility and equipment when they have worked so hard to make it nice themselves!

Remember: when it comes to running a successful shop, image is everything. How your facility and staff look creates an expectation for customers before they ever even reach your front counter or pick up a phone to call.

Marketing Before a Slow Period

Perhaps the best way to increase sales during periods when you know your shop will be slower than usual is to ramp up your marketing before your car count starts to drop.

In our shop, we've set up a seasonal marketing plan where we stop any slowdown in its tracks by stepping up our marketing and advertising one to two months before sales normally start to dip.

For instance, we know our shop's car count typically begins to slow down in late November for the holidays. To counteract this, we increase our marketing efforts in October (and earlier), so that when that typical slowdown comes around (while other shops are experiencing a drop in sales), the marketing and advertising from the previous month are continuing to bring us great customers.

Besides the timing of your marketing efforts, however, what those pieces say is just as important. In our shop, we constantly focus on doing "replacement marketing," where we aim to market only to customers that we want in our shop. After all, if your shop is anything like ours, we don't have time for the cheap, discount-seeking customers that typical advertisements bring in.

Instead, we focus on bringing in people who want to take care of their car, and who are focused on quality over price. By concentrating on these customers, we guarantee higher sales year round, and by stepping up advertising efforts in the month or so before a slowdown, we make sure we have a steady stream of quality customers all year long.

Of course, finding great customers is a topic all of its own. If you're interested in learning more about getting the right kinds of customers into your shop, I've written a free e-book you can download on my Web site at www.autoprofitmasters.com. Drop by and learn how you can keep your shop busy and profitable all year!

Editor's Note: This article is one of several management articles that is being contributed to AutoInc. this year by Automotive Management Institute (AMI) instructors. Throughout 2008, a full lineup of AMI instructors have been sharing their knowledge on a variety of topics including training and equipping your staff, goal setting, cross promoting, increasing car count during slow times and much more. To learn more about AMI, its courses and instructors, visit www.amionline.org.

David Rogers David Rogers, AAM, is the president of Auto Profit Masters. He is also an active member of the National Speakers Association. He operates Keller Bros Inc., a CARQUEST National Excellence Award-winning shop in Littleton, Colo. He can be reached at coach@autoprofitmasters.com.


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